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Willys Kaiser Jeep Lives On, Sort Of

October 16th, 2010 · 2 Comments

By Garland Pollard

Keeping an old brand viable is sometimes no more difficult than packaging. Here, a specialized Willys Jeep Wrangler, which according to a Chrysler LLC release dates from 2004. Basically, it’s a Wrangler, but it comes specially packaged, with a Willys decal, and Army paint colors and tires.

The Willys package was about paint, styling and accessories, and nothing else. In fact, the Willys legacy is alive and well; the Kaiser Willys Auto Supply LLC keeps the brand rolling with parts that cater to the classic Jeep market. Chrysler might do well to purchase the family owned specialty parts company, and use their market knowledge as a laboratory for ideas for their prized Jeep brand.

Looking at this model makes me think of a fun mental exercise to think of what discontinued badges might have a market in a limited run or as concept cars. Selling them as a specialty item at existing dealers, might be a way to drum up interest in GM’s design legacy. Purists might find this as heresy, but so what. GM has been badge engineering for generations, essentially selling one car and then dressing it up differently for different markets. GM has done a bad, uninspired job of it, but that does not make it wrong to mess about with these brands.

I listened this morning on NPR as a factory worker discussed bad manufacturing practices of two decades ago, where Buick Regals and Chevy Monte Carlos were merged on the assembly lines to create bastard cars that were both Chevy and Buick. These were production errors that were ultimately fixed after the assembly line, but it pointed up how cars today are merely but facades of molded plastic and different labeling.

Pontiac might be the most obvious choice for this sort of stunt; how about a limited edition Camaro, rebadged as a Trans Am? Oldsmobile and Plymouth have been gone a long time, but there are specific models that have cult appeal, like the Mini did.

Chrysler’s Dodge brand has a youth swagger, which has no appeal to families. Why not a Plymouth version of a minivan? The Mitsubishi Eclipse could perhaps be re-badged as Plymouth Duster, which is revered as  a hipster car. Could a V8 Buick Lucerne be transformed into a special limited edition, high powered Olds Ninety Eight? Perhaps the Buick Enclave could be rebadged sold as the Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser.

GM is apparently doing something like this in 2011, by bringing back the Chevrolet Caprice as the brand name for a police car. It will be rear-wheel drive, and a monster.

More branding stories of interest:

Buick and the Invicta Concept Car
Auto Message Boards Discuss Future of Oldsmobile
GM's Unpopular Models
Pontiac By The Door, Says Byron Hurd
Dodge Dart Returns Chrysler to the Small Car Market
The Bandit Trans Am, a G.M. Chevrolet

Tags: Cars

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Howard // Oct 16, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    Well, the Chrysler brand minivans all had versions under each individual Chrysler division, the Dodge Caravan, Plymouth Voyager and Chrysler Town & Country. And after Chrysler purchased AMC from Renault, Chrysler resurrected one of their Dodge model names of yesteryear, the Monaco, and plastered it on to a rebadged Eagle Premier. That didn’t go well at all.

  • 2 Stuart // Oct 25, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    As far as the new Camaro conversion into a Trans Am. The aftermarket is already doing it. http://www.caranddriver.com/news/car/09q4/lingenfelter_455_t_a_concept-auto_shows

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